There’s Nothing, And Then There’s NOTHING

Question from Cherry:
I’ve heard the theory from Krauss about how you get something from nothing, but if you don’t have multiverses, laws, quantum mechanics, vacuums, particles, empty space, energy, matter, infinite singularity, or potential how can something come into existence? I’ve heard the whole thing about when antimatter and matter cancels itself out or positive and negative cancel out and then you have nothing, but if that pops back into existence it couldn’t have been long gone, it had to have just changed form and I’m not referring to nothing as a zero vacuum or being unstable. I’m referring to nothing as NO THING existing. If you START at the beginning with nothing I listed above existing, I don’t see how it could pop into existence. Say your hand is absolutely no thing existing and you want a chicken egg to pop into it, or like and unborn child that is not conceived, it doesn’t come into existence unless someone makes it happen. It just can’t appear because if you have nothing, nothing can make it. and don’t say it was in a zero vacuum. Again, I’m NOT referring to Krauss’ definition of nothing. I’m saying if you START with the absence of anything, nothing, like the examples I gave, then tell me how something can come into existence?

Answer by SmartLX:
I honestly don’t know. This does not matter, for three reasons.

1. To take the lack of an answer as an argument that it’s impossible without a god is an argument from ignorance; just because the explanation is not known does not mean there is no possible explanation. This particular fallacy has been coming up a LOT.

2. We don’t know that we did start with nothing, either in the way Krauss means or in the way you mean. Even if it’s completely impossible for something to come from nothing, this doesn’t necessitate an extra entity like a god until we establish that there ever was actually nothing. The simpler explanation, working solely from the ordinary law of conservation of matter and energy, is that there was always something.

3. God isn’t nothing. To posit that God started the universe and then immediately say God didn’t have to come from anywhere or anything is to make two assertions where one will do: that the universe didn’t have to either. Divine creation is not a simpler explanation, it’s just the one that meets the religious criterion that a god be necessary to the process at some point. I often say that any restriction you place on the universe to necessitate a god must immediately be broken to allow for a god.

14 thoughts on “There’s Nothing, And Then There’s NOTHING”

  1. “I don’t know” seems to be a popular answer among atheists.

    You write, “God isn’t nothing. To posit that God started the universe and then immediately say God didn’t have to come from anywhere or anything is to make two assertions where one will do: that the universe didn’t have to either. Divine creation is not a simpler explanation, it’s just the one that meets the religious criterion that a god be necessary to the process at some point.”
    You are correct in asserting that God is not nothing. However, god is not matter and energy, He is Spirit. Creation is a much simpler explanation for this reason: A mind doesn’t need a begining to start the begining of something else. Time, space, matter, and energy cannot decide to react in and of themselves but a mind can. What cause the Big Bang? If we knew the answer then the question would just be forced back a step. Obviously, this cannot go on infinitely, it has to stop somewhere. A Supreme Being who exists outside of time is the simplest and most straightforward answer.

    1. “You are correct in asserting that God is not nothing. However, god is not matter and energy, He is Spirit.”

      People cannot make the unfounded claim that a being exists (God), make the unfounded claim that a substance exists (spirit), make the unfounded claim that the former exists out of the later, and then having made up the properties and characteristics of this hypothetical being, turn around and use the properties and characteristics they made up to prove that he exists and has these properties and characteristics. That’s fundamentally backwards.

      “However, god is not matter and energy, He is Spirit.”

      There’s no evidence that spirit exists or that it has particular properties.

      “A mind doesn’t need a begining to start the begining of something else.”

      In our experience, minds are dependent on the physical world (brains) in order to exist, and they cannot themselves start the existence of any physical thing. Furthermore, for them to start something would imply that they exist within time.

      “Time, space, matter, and energy cannot decide to react in and of themselves but a mind can.”

      Really?!? So minds can react independent of the physical matter of our brains (which must be supplied by energy and which exists within space/ time)?!? You’re making up a mind that doesn’t have the properties and limitations of the minds we’re familiar with. Yet, at the same time you’re trying to talk about the properties and limitations of space, time, matter, and energy. You’re being inconsistent.

  2. Why exactly, Jordan, does it have to “stop somewhere”? This is not obvious at all, especially when the alternative you propose is an entity that effectively can go on infinitely.

  3. God is omniscient. It follows, therefore, that he must know that “obviously, this cannot go on infinitely, it has to stop somewhere”. Putting aside the notion that god itself is conveniently defined, sans data, as the sole exception to that rule, it follows then that god must know that he must know that it ‘has to stop somewhere’. And it follows that god must know that he must know that he must know that it ‘has to stop somewhere’. And it follows that god must know that he must know that he must know that he must know ‘that it has to stop somewhere’……..ad infinitum, so long as god is omniscient and has reflexive knowledge. So, logically, either God doesn’t exist, or it doesn’t have to stop somewhere. Unless, of course, theologians can smuggle in even more presuppositions than they already have.

    This is an example of the problems encountered when using logical intuitions derived from a particular bandwidth of space-time and extrapolating them beyond that bandwidth to make overtly empirical claims. You can ‘prove’ just about anything using logic so long as the right presuppositions have been accepted. On the other hand, when you’re dealing with a paucity of actual data, it’s not quite so easy……..you’re forced to be honest and say “I don’t know”.

  4. Jordan writes: “A Supreme Being who exists outside of time is the simplest and most straightforward answer.”

    A being that exists outside of everything, and can create everything if it simply thinks it, and has to have existed for, a minimum, 14 billion years, is the simplest explanation? I’d hate to see what you think is a complex one…

    It’s convenient for you to think of a god in that way, because that way you don’t have to prove anything. You can just claim that it is true, despite no evidence to support your claim. You probably don’t realize that your claim is not simple at all, for a host of reasons starting with the conservation laws in the universe. But you aren’t going to care about what we can prove when you already accept things you can’t prove as the truth. Evidence means nothing to you.

    Which is why trying to have a conversation with you would be a waste of time. A person like yourself that makes up arbitrary boundaries and exceptions in order to fit his dogma into his worldview isn’t interested in logic or reason or rationality.

    You what is logical and rational? To say I don’t know when you don’t know….

    “I don’t know” seems to be a popular answer among atheists.”

    Amazing how honest atheists are, isn’t Jordan?

  5. Cherry – There are different theories about the “start” of the universe, and I use quotes around the word start because some think it was here before the Big Bang. There is disagreement about the age of he universe even if the Big Bang is true for that matter (the Plasma crowd verses the Lambda-CDM crowd as an example). There are mathematical theories about matter popping into and out of existence, and how on occasion things decay differently than they are supposed to (B mesons have been shown in the lab to do this) leading to a matter/antimatter imbalance.

    There is quite a lot of information out there, and a lot of very smart people trying to figure it all out. You should read up on it. I think you will be surprised at what you find. Your question is one of the big ones in physics right now, and to me it is a fascinating one. I hope you delve into it and follow the work being done.

  6. Hi Cherry, it’s important to understand that the question you’re asking is not really an empirical one. If we want to know how the universe(s) (I use plural in deference to the multiverse hypothesis, but there’s no reason anyway to think that there might not have been a universe(s) prior to this one) came into existence the best methodology would be to analyse the structure of what we have in the present and to work backward. Which is what physics and cosmology do. Starting out, as you do, not with the present, but with the notion of
    ” NO THING existing. If you START at the beginning with nothing I listed above existing, I don’t see how it could pop into existence……..Again, I’m NOT referring to Krauss’ definition of nothing”
    isn’t a viable approach, it’s just doing an interesting thought experiment. But remember that we have made no observations, or otherwise have any experience, of the ‘nothing’ that you envisage. We don’t even know if the ‘nothing’ that you refer to is even a coherent notion. We can’t even imagine it. It might even be eternally impossible, which is why we find ourselves in a universe in the first place. The notion that god created the universe ex nihilo is simply an idea that some people like the sound of. There’s no actual physical (or logical) evidence for why it should be the case. And even if it were the case, it would simply be a description of what has happened, we would still need to explain how and why it happened.

    Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy thought experiments, and I think they can be valuable to ‘blow away the cobwebs’ around our thought patterns, but I wouldn’t recommend using any conclusions we might come to as the basis to organise my life around.

  7. Cherry,
    The “nothing” that you’re talking about– absolute “nothing”– doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist by definition. This “nothing” is synonymous with non-existence.

    Consequently, the only “nothing” that can exist and does exist (however we define existence, and we do have a lot of latitude here)– the only “nothing” that does actually exist is a “not-quite-actual nothing.”

    It happens that I’ve been pondering deeply about this question of true, absolute “nothing” versus Krauss’ “nothing” all week, within the context of the question of whether our universe is “finite” or “infinite.” Depending on which physicist you ask, you’ll get a different answer to this question, because different physicists interpret the question differently.

    From what I can tell, when physicists claim that our (seemingly flat) universe is probably “infinite,” they mean that if you keep going in any one direction you aren’t going to either hit a wall or end up where you started. On the other hand, when physicists claim that our universe is “finite,” they mean that (since it had a starting point and has a finite age) the “stuff” produced in the Big Bang doesn’t go on forever. In other words, the portion of “all that is and isn’t” which physically “exists” has a finite size.

    Note that, the “stuff” produced by the Big Bang wasn’t just matter and energy. It also included “fields.” An astrophysicist’s “nothing” can be curved (manifesting as gravity), and contains many kinds of energetic fields. Absolute, true nothing couldn’t contain energy or be curved, because it has no existence– no attributes, no characteristics, and no reality, except for the reality of the number zero.

    We generally think of the number zero as existing because it seems to fall between the positive and negative numbers on the number line. We call the point equidistant from minus three and three “zero,” but we aren’t permitted to divide by that “number.” If it’s a number, like 15 or pi, why can’t we divide by it?

    We say, “I had two apples in this basket, but I gave one to Tom and one to Jennifer, so now there are “zero” apples in the basket. We can say that, but if you look into the basket, what will you find? You’ll find Nothing.

    So what is the Big Bang expanding into? As the space-time– the “not-quite-actual nothing”– between the galaxies expands, making the existing universe bigger, the universe has greater and greater volume. What is it replacing or moving into as it gets bigger? Nothing. It’s replacing nothing and moving into nothing.

    Or, perhaps, there is something there that it’s expanding into. If there are potentialities or fields in “the void” into which the existing, finite, portion of the universe is expanding, then what came out of the Big Bang isn’t all that is.

    We still know so little about the nature of reality. One thing that we do know, however, is that our words and concepts are only cognitive maps of our physical experience. These maps are not the territory. A notion of “zero” or “nothing” can exist in the realm of cognition and imagination without existing in reality, just like a Leprechaun, a unicorn, or a good-tasting light beer. We can even have multiple, contradictory concepts of “nothing” in our heads. Before we can conclude, scientifically, that “something must have come from nothing,” we have to confirm that our mental notions of “nothing” match physical reality.

  8. There’s a popular misconception, propagated by the media and popular culture, that the Big Bang theory is based on the idea that matter came from “nothing.” These days, astrophysicists often participate in conjecture about the idea of the universe coming from “nothing.” Before the Big Bang, none of the matter, energy, time, and space of our universe existed. Neither did the natural law that we know.

    Conjecture is just conjecture, though, and the fact that none of the matter, energy and space-time in the present universe existed before the Big Bang doesn’t automatically mean that the Big Bang came from “nothing.” Modern physics is incapable of describing or explaining what happened at the moment that the Big Bang began. It can only describe the universe an instant after it started, so Big Bang theory doesn’t say– can’t say– what existed or didn’t exist before the event occurred, or at the point that it started.

    For a long time, astrophysicists didn’t like to talk about what existed before the Big Bang, what might have caused the Big Bang, or whether or not the Big Bang had a cause. Recently, that’s changed– in part, I suspect, due to the growing popularity of the concept of the multiverse and related cosmological theory. When the paradigm of a UNI-verse was dominant, what came out of the Big Bang was EVERYTHING. Not just all matter and energy, but all time, all space, and all natural law as well. Once the dominant paradigm shifts from a UNI-verse to a MULTI-verse, what came out of the Big Bang is no longer automatically synonymous with EVERYTHING that did, does, and will ever exist. We can begin to consider the possibility of things and events outside of our universe, or before the Big Bang, though we still can’t say anything conclusive about those things.

    Causality is a tricky thing. Centuries ago, the philosopher David Hume pointed out the fact that we never actually see causality. We see one event followed by another event– say a ball striking a pane of glass. We say that the ball “caused” the pane of glass to break, but all we actually see is a predictable sequence— ball approaches window, ball touches window, window cracks, window shatters.

    Whenever we see a ball strike a window, we see this same familiar sequence. Where in the sequence is “causation”? Can you point to it? What does it mean to say that the ball “caused” the window to break? Hitting and breaking aren’t the same thing. Suppose that the window was made of plexiglass and the ball of styrofoam. In that case, the ball would hit the window, but it wouldn’t break.

    I’ve noticed an equally predictable sequence in my daily life. People carrying umbrellas to work in the morning, followed by the appearance of clouds, followed by rain. How is this sequence different from the ball and window pane sequence– apart from traditional interpretation? Okay, maybe the ball and window pane sequence is slightly more consistent. There’s nothing in that sequence, though, that isn’t in the umbrella and rain sequence. There’s no process of “causation” that you can point to. All that’s there is a very familiar and very predictable pattern.

    In a realm outside of the matter, energy, space, time, and natural law that we know, there may be patterns and sequences, but they wouldn’t be familiar or predictable. One such sequence might be nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, something. If we observed this sequence outside of our own universe, we wouldn’t be able to explain it, but neither could we claim that it was impossible. On what basis would we claim that it was impossible? On the basis of our previous experience with natural law inside our own universe? Why should the natural laws that came into being with the creation of our universe hold outside of it?

    Anyway, our entire universe is mostly nothing, so there’s not that big a difference between what existed before and after the Big Bang. The molecules that comprise your body are mostly nothing, too. By “mostly,” I mean virtually all. If most of the universe is nothing, and most of you is nothing, why should it trouble you that it all came from nothingness?

  9. “I often say that any restriction you place on the universe to necessitate a god must immediately be broken to allow for a god.”

    But that’s not true, if God exists outside of time, then God doesn’t have to have a beginning. But the universe does as time exists in the universe, therefore it had a beginning, as science now agrees.

    If God created time, then he exists outside of time, and doesn’t have to have a beginning or a end. He exists in eternity, time does not exist in that realm, so it has no meaning.

    1. If God moves or does anything, then he experiences time. To say he exists in any meaningful way, outside of time, is to say that God does nothing and can do nothing.

      1. That is ridiculous. God is not bound by time because He exists outside of it. Because you are bound by time you cannot understand the idea of an all powerful being who isn’t. That does not make it any less true, however.

    2. London, Jordan, that God exists outside of time is a pure assertion that isn’t even backed up by scripture. When the Bible talks about God’s relationship with time, it says he existed before the beginning of time (1 Corinthians 2:7, 2 Timothy 1:9 and a couple of others). The most straightforward interpretation of the existence of a period “before time” is that God has an independent system of time, and thus is subject to the same conundrums of an eternal past.

      The only reason to claim instead that time does not apply to God at all is apologetics: to defend against accusations of special pleading on God’s behalf by means of more unsupported special pleading, or in other words to arbitrarily break the restriction placed on the universe in order to allow for a god.

      Finally, “science now agrees” that the Big Bang occurred, not that it was the absolute beginning. Something might still have been in place to cause it, and not necessarily a god; another universe is one of the main candidates, or the matter in the current universe but in a different form.

  10. Jordan writes: [That is ridiculous. God is not bound by time because He exists outside of it. Because you are bound by time you cannot understand the idea of an all powerful being who isn’t. That does not make it any less true, however.]

    Stop and think about what you just said. You just gave us a pretty succinct and detailed understanding of a god we can’t understand. We can’t understand the idea that you just explained? That’s illogical, don’t you think?

    We can look at it another way as well. There are conservation laws in the universe. Your god has appeared as a burning bush, and spoken to men, and even became a man at one point. It interacted with this universe. The only problem is you can’t interact with this universe unless you ARE a part of this universe. There are no known exceptions to the conservation laws, so in order for a divine being to become a man it must be of this universe. This universe is finite, so too must be the divine being, if it even exists.

    The fundamental problem that believers run into is that you have to break the rules in order for your creator to exist. Logic rules, conservation rules, rules of evidence…

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